3 Ingredient Alfredo Sauce with Evaporated Milk

Gimme a Break!

Cheese melts, right? So why not just throw some real cheddar cheese in a bowl, and heat it until it's at perfect sauce consistency?

Well here's why:

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Not pretty, right?

In order to explain why this oily breakage occurs, let's take a closer look at exactly what cheese is made of:

  • Water is present to varying degrees. Young cheeses like Jack, mild cheddar, or mozzarella have a relatively high water content—up to 80%. The longer a cheese is aged for, the more moisture it loses, and the harder it becomes. Famous hard cheeses, like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano may be as little as 30% water after several years of aging.
  • In solid cheese, milk fat is suspended in the form of microscopic globules held in a tight matrix of protein micelles (more on those in a second). Under around 90°F (32°C), the fat is solid. Because of this, and because of their suspension, the fat globules don't come into contact with each other to form larger globules: cheeses stay creamy or crumbly instead of greasy.
  • Protein micelles are spherical bundles of milk proteins. Individual milk proteins (the main ones are four similar molecules called caseins) resemble little tadpoles, with hydrophobic (water-avoiding) heads, and hydrophilic (water-seeking) tails. These proteins come together head first in bundles of several thousand, protecting their hydrophobic heads, and exposing their hydrophilic tails. These micelles link together into long chains, forming a matrix that gives the cheese structure.
  • Salt and other flavorings make up the rest of the cheese. Salt can have a profound effect on the texture of the cheese—saltier cheeses have had more moisture drawn out of the curd before being pressed, so they tend to be drier and firmer. Other flavorful compounds present in cheese are mostly intentional byproducts of bacteria and aging.

Anyone who has ever tried to make an aged cheese can tell you that it’s all about delicately balancing ingredients ratios, timing, and temperature. Heat throws this whole balance off. To explain how, let me quote from Harold McGee’s seminal work, On Food and Cooking:

"First, at around 90°F, the milk fat melts, which makes the cheese more supple, and often brings little beads of melted fat to the surface. Then at higher temperatures—[around 150°F for cheddar]—enough of the proteins holding the casein proteins together are broken that the protein matrix collapses."

As the cheese heats to higher temperatures, you'll notice two things happening. First, the liquefied fat will come together into greasy pools and separate from the water and proteins. As you continue to stir the melted cheese, the proteins—which are suspended in whatever part of the water hasn't yet evaporated—glue themselves together with the help of calcium into long, tangled strands, forming the stretchy curds that anyone who's eaten string cheese is familiar with.

To get a cheesy sauce that's shiny and smooth, and not greasy nor stringy, the key is to discover a way in which to keep the fat globules from separating out and pooling, adding moisture to thin the texture out a bit, and figuring out a way to keep the proteins from breaking apart and rejoining into long strands.

Well, how the heck do you do that? Luckily for us (and allow me to quote Peter Pan here for a moment): "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again."

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CAN I FREEZE IT?

You can freeze it, but it will separate when thawed. You will need to reheat it, with a small amount of milk, and whisk until combined and smooth again.

17. Impossible Pumpkin Pie

This fall favorite just got a lot more interesting.

This is technically a crustless pie…but then…not really. That’s why it’s impossible! 

It’s also impossibly delicious.

It calls for a bit more patience than your average pumpkin pie, but that’s because it has to cool and set in the fridge before serving. 

I promise it’s worth the wait.

Candied Jalapenos

I made those Easy Refrigerator Candied Jalapenos the other day, and I’ve been coming up with all kinds of ways to use that sweet heat.

The first one I came up with is the classic spicy dip, Candied Jalapeno Ranch Dip.

Can I use whole milk instead of evaporated milk?

Yes, although the sauce will have a much thinner consistency because fresh milk is lower in fat, milk solids, and protein. It also doesn’t contain thickening agents like carrageenan that give a velvety texture. The difference is that when the cheese sauce cools down, the whole milk version will not thicken as quickly for a slightly longer dipping time.

2. Alfredo Sauce with Evaporated Milk

With this easy recipe, you’ll never need to buy a jar of alfredo sauce again. It’s creamy, mouth-watering, and only requires three ingredients. 

All you need is evaporated milk, parmesan cheese, and butter (plus seasonings).

So not only do you get a fantastic, close-to-authentic alfredo, but you save money too. 

How do you keep mac and cheese creamy?

Getting creamy mac and cheese can be a challenge, especially when you’re using this custard-based method. That’s why I’m sharing my secrets with you to make this southern baked mac and cheese just as creamy as can be! But before we continue, these are secrets! I’m sure I can trust you guys to keep it on the hush, but just make sure no one is looking over your shoulder while you read this. Ok, if the coast is clear, read on…

Secret #1: Overcook your macaroni

Hear me out! First of all, we’re not in Italy. Unless you are, in fact, reading this from Italy, in which case, ciao! But for the rest of us, forget everything you learned from Giada de Laurentiis and boil your macaroni for two minutes longer than the maximum time listed on the packaging. For example, the macaroni I used instructed me to boil it for 8-10 minutes, so I set my timer for 12 minutes.

So how does this make your southern baked mac and cheese creamier? Well, as your macaroni boils, it absorbs water. So by boiling it a little longer, we’re preventing the macaroni from absorbing too much of the milk while it’s baking, allowing more of the milk to form that creamy, cheesy, custardy filling around the pasta. Trust me– it works!

Secret #2: Mascarpone

Secret #2: Mascarpone

OK, forget what I said about not being in Italy, because we’re using a classic Italian ingredient to add to the creaminess of this soul food baked mac and cheese! Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese that adds a smooth, mild soft creaminess to bump up the creamy flavor of the cheese filling even further! I got this idea from my Uncle Glenn, who told me about using mascarpone many Thanksgivings ago when I asked him how his mac and cheese was so amazing!

Secret #3: Coat your macaroni in butter

You may have gathered from secret #1 that the key to making this soul food baked mac and cheese super creamy is keeping the macaroni from absorbing too much liquid as it bakes. That’s what this step is about as well! We’re going to toss the cooked macaroni in butter before adding the other ingredients. This creates a barrier that prevents the other liquids from penetrating the macaroni as it bakes. It should help you to end up with more cheesy custard filling that makes the finished dish delicious!

Baked macaroni and cheese
Baked macaroni and cheese

Not-So-Secret #4: Freshly Grated Cheese

This definitely isn’t much of a secret. But you’d be surprised how many people still use pre-shredded cheese to make their macaroni and cheese! It’s so much faster, but pre-shredded cheese is often coated with cellulose (wood pulp!) to prevent it from sticking together, which dries it out significantly. This dryness will then translate into your dishes, which we definitely don’t want. For this baked macaroni and cheese, you should definitely buy your cheese in blocks and grate it yourself to keep the sauce nice and creamy. It’s an extra step, but makes a huge difference!

Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe
Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

The best serving temperature

Because cheese solidifies around 90ºF (32ºC), it’s best to enjoy the sauce while still warm, above 110ºF (43ºC). The texture will be more dippable, with a thick coating, but not heavy like pudding. Consuming within 30 to 40 minutes has the best taste.

It takes about 1 hour for it to get closer to room temperature. You’ll notice the sauce firm up more due to starch retrogradation, where the gelatinized starches realign to create a gel-like texture. At that point, if you have any dip left, give it a quick reheat.

Southern Baked Mac and Cheese Ingredients

  • elbow macaroni – you’ll need 8 ounces of macaroni (or small shells, or cavatappi, or whatever similar pasta shape you prefer. I find elbow macaroni is best for holding all that yummy cheese). So it’s about half of a one-pound box.
  • butter – I use salted, but you can use either salted or unsalted and adjust your seasonings accordingly.
  • extra-sharp aged cheddar cheese – This cheese forms is the largest portion of the flavors in this soul food mac and cheese, so be sure to get the good stuff! I like to use a really good quality white cheddar that’s been aged at least 12 months for the most flavor. It should come in a block for you to grate yourself — trust me, it makes a big difference in this southern mac and cheese recipe!
  • mild cheddar cheese – you can also use any mild, melty cheese you like. Mild cheddar, gouda, jack, mozzarella, or fontina all work! Again, in block form for you to grate yourself.
  • whole milk – you can also use low-fat milk, and it still works well.
  • evaporated milk – if you don’t have evaporated milk, you can use a cup of heavy cream and omit the butter.
  • salt – you can adjust the amount of salt to your taste, along with the seasonings below, before adding your egg.
  • cajun or creole seasoning – I like the flavor boost from creole seasoning in this southern baked mac and cheese, especially with the blend of cheeses. I like Tony Chachere’s.
  • dry mustard powder – adds a slight tangy flavor that goes so well with the cheese.
  • ground nutmeg – I always have whole nutmeg on hand to grate fresh, but in this recipe ground nutmeg works great too.
  • egg – beaten well.
  • cracked black pepper – to add to the top before baking. You can also add paprika or more cajun seasoning.
Southern Baked Mac and Cheese with Evaporated Milk
Southern Baked Mac and Cheese with Evaporated Milk

TAPAS TIPS TRICKS

  • use a block of cheese and shred it yourself. You will get a smoother and creamier sauce.
  • make sure you cook the flour and butter for at least a minute to cook out the raw flour flavor or your sauce will have a chalky taste.
  • mild cheddar is the best flavor without being overly sharp and seems to be the one that will be loved by everyone
  • switch up your flavors a bit by adding Rotel, pico, or diced jalapeños to the cheese once it’s melted.
  • you can switch out the paprika for chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, or cayenne pepper for even more flavor!
  • if the pan is too hot when adding the cheese, turn off heat and remove pan for a minute or two.
  • keep it warm in a crock pot or slow cooker while you have your party!

If you love this recipe as much as I do, please write a five-star review in the comment section below (or on Pinterest with the “tried it” button – you can now add pictures into reviews, too!), and be sure to help me share on facebook!

This nacho cheese recipe is super easy to make and perfect for dipping all sorts of tasty treats! I love mine on seasoned french fries, soft pretzels, a taco ring, or drizzling on my Nachos Supreme!

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Hello! I’m Debi, the girl behind Life Currents where I write about mainly healthy vegetarian dishes. My husband eats meat, so occasionally I share some of his dishes as well. And, I’ll share tasty treats and projects that we do. Read More >>>

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